Caught by the River

Music and Migration II

4th December 2011

Music and Migration II (Second Language, CD)
Review by David Hemingway

“Well, I’m no ornithologist/I’m no expert on the world,” drawls Piano Magic’s Glen Johnson on his marvellously bleak contribution to the second volume in the Music and Migration series, “But maybe this is our last chance/We’ll go the way of the birds.”

The Way of the Birds seems central to this avian-themed collection and not just because Johnson is one third of the Second Language imprint/cottage industry behind it. Piano Magic capture something of the emotional resonance of birds, even to those who don’t regard themselves as twitchers or spotters – the video clip of starling murmuration over the River Shannon that has – at the time of writing – enthralled six million social networkers, springs to mind as an example.
Johnson’s apparent hope that birds plummeting from the sky might somehow foretell the end of the world might initially seem a little incongruous for a compilation intended to raise awareness about threats to avian migratory routes but, given that these threats come from “the wilfulness and thoughtlessness of mankind”, you can appreciate his misanthropy: Music and Migration II specifically highlights Bird Life International’s and Bird Life Malta’s campaigns around hunting and trapping across the Maltese archipelago* – one of three main routes used by Europe’s breeding birds in their migration to and from the African wintering grounds. Second Language don’t shy away from the grisly horror of this – Music and Migration II is lovingly packaged but (fittingly) equally includes images of dead white storks and common cuckoos. The ornithological theme (as well as, presumably, a deliberate effort from the label) produces a charmingly cohesive compilation even as the individual contributors draw on disparate genres and tropes, ranging from field recordings (Rowan and John Aitchison) to pastoral atmospherica (Ellis Island Sound) to Nyman-esque piano pieces (Sophie Hutchings). Sounding astonishingly like Robert Wyatt and contemplating migrating south himself, Dollboy succinctly illustrates why caring about slaughtered birds might matter: “I’d miss this/So I feed them daily,” he sings of the birds making a transitory stop-over in his garden.

*Ed’s note: Ceri Levy was in Malta in October this year and witnessed the full horror of the illegal hunt. His thoughts can be heard in a podcast at the Talking Naturally blog.

Music & Migration II can be bought from the Caught by the River shop, priced £11.